– 22 February 2005) was a French film actress who began her film career in 1931.
Early lifeBorn in Béthune, Pas-de-Calais (some sources say Marseille) France, she was the daughter of Henri Louis Firmin Champmoynat, a French engineer, airplane pilot in World War II, who died in a concentration camp, and Erma Maria Domenica Giorcelli, an Italian housewife. Before settling and growing up in Marseille, Simon lived in Madagascar, Budapest, Turin and Berlin. She went to Paris in 1931 and worked briefly as a singer, model and fashion designer. She also at one point decided that she wanted to become a sculptress.
Simon worked chiefly for the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, and then managed to get more serious work with Sacha Guitry in Ô mon bel inconnu.
CareerAfter being spotted in a restaurant in June 1931, Simon was offered a film contract by director Victor Tourjansky, which ended her plans on becoming a fashion designer. She made her screen debut in Le chanteur inconnu (The Unknown Singer, 1931), and quickly established herself as one of the country's most successful film actresses. Simon later told a reporter that she had no acting experience when making her first screen test for The Unknown Singer. In 1932, she was given more important roles and she rose to fame after starring in Marc Allégret's Lac aux dames (Ladies Lake, 1934), which was in her own opinion her first serious role since The Unknown Singer. In later interviews, Simon expressed her gratitude towards Allégret, feeling that he was responsible for her glory.
After seeing her in Ladies Lake, Darryl F. Zanuck brought her to Hollywood in August 1935 with a widespread publicity campaign. Before deciding to accept an American contract, Simon decided to first complete two more films for Allégret, Les yeux noirs (Black Eyes, 1935) and Les beaux jours (1935). It was usual for foreign actresses to receive months of preparation before working, but Simon was given only a few weeks of English lessons before she was told to report on set. Meanwhile, the studio had trouble finding her a suitable role. She was scheduled to make her American film debut in A Message to Garcia (1936), playing a Spanish girl, but was replaced by Rita Hayworth. In mid-1935, she was cast in the female lead in Under Two Flags (1936), but was discharged during production.
Frank Lloyd. Simon herself claimed in a 1936 interview that she fell ill after weeks of tests and rehearsing for the film. She admitted, though, that in the early stage of production she was temperamental, insisting that she was inspired to behave that way after a conversation with Marlene Dietrich, who told her that "a star is only as important as she makes herself out to be." She dismissed any further claims of her being rude or difficult to work with, explaining to the press that she was initially not used to the American lifestyle, which was in her view more extroverted than the French way of living. Her poor health caused her to be hospitalized, during which she became convinced to give up her American contract.
Shortly after she had decided to return to France, the studio assigned her to a third billing role in Girls' Dormitory (1936). Simon was attracted to the story and saw "great possibilities" in her character.Reportedly, she again showed a temperament, which led to difficulties with Ruth Chatterton, the film's star, who felt that Simon was receiving more attention. Simon confessed that she was nervous during production, because studio executives were closely watching her every step. Although thought to be one of the highlights of the year, Girls' Dormitory was soon forgotten by the public, making Simon's American film debut less than impressive. Nonetheless, Simon was hailed a sensation and critics applauded her performance. Furthermore, magazines reported that it brought the actress overnight fame. Shortly after the film's release she was cast in White Hunter, a B movie that would reunite her with producer Irving Cummings. During filming, she was again striken by a flu, and she ultimately had to be replaced by actress June Lang.
Instead, the studio rushed her in the romantic comedy Ladies in Love (1936), which was filmed in mid-1936. She shared the female lead with Janet Gaynor, Loretta Young and Constance Bennett, some of whom objected to the large number of scenes that Simon was getting. It was a heavyweight lineup in which Simon's role left her little chance to compete effectively. Trying to avoid quarrels, she hired an assistant to prevent her from making headlines with her behavior. Despite a big build-up, which included a weekly salary even though her first American film was released over a year after her arrival in the country, Simon's films for 20th Century Fox were only moderately successful. Among others, she was cast in the Janet Gaynor role in the 1937 remake of the silent classic Seventh Heaven (1927), which co-starred James Stewart and flopped. Afterwards, she was cast in Danger – Love at Work (1937), but due to her heavy French accent she had to be replaced by Ann Sothern. Failing in finding her appropriate roles, the studio allowed her to go on an eight-week vacation to France, and following her return in June 1937, she was assigned to Suez (1938), but the project was shelved and she was eventually replaced.
In the late 1930s Simon returned to France, dissatisfied with the development of her American film career and the backfiring of its related publicity. There she appeared in the Renoir film La Bête Humaine (The Human Beast) in 1938. With the outbreak of World War II she returned to Hollywood and worked for RKO Radio Pictures where she achieved her greatest successes in English language cinema with The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), Cat People (1942) and The Curse of the Cat People (1944); the latter two formed part the horror film series produced by Val Lewton. These films did not lead to greater success and she languished in mediocre films until the end of the war.
She returned to France to act, and appeared in La Ronde (Roundabout, 1950). Her film roles were few after this and she made her final film appearance in 1973.
Personal life and deathSimon never married. It was alleged by her secretary that she gave a gold key to her boudoir to any man she was interested in, including George Gershwin. However, as film historian Gang Mank reports in his audio commentary for the DVD of Cat People the secretary was then on trial for extorting money from her employer, and her word on this matter cannot be taken at face value (the secretary was later convicted, and the terms of her probation required that she never speak of the "gold key" scandal again). In the 1950s, Simon was romantically involved with the French banker and racehorse owner/breeder Alec Weisweiller whose wife Francine was one of Jean Cocteau's patrons.
She was at one time in a relationship with World War II double agent Dusko Popov, codenamed "Tricycle".
Simon died in Paris, France on 22 February 2005, aged 94, from natural causes. The BBC mistakenly reported her age as 93 by using the wrong year of birth (1911). A few days later, French Minister of Culture Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres issued a statement in which he extolled Simon's "charm, her irresistible smile. . . With Simone Simon's passing, we have lost one of the most seductive and most brilliant stars of the French cinema of the first half of the 20th century."
In 2011, British actor and writer Stephen Mosley paid tribute to her in his acclaimed book of strange tales The Boy Who Loved Simone Simon.
Film Year Title Role Notes
1931 Durand contre Durand Eliane
1931 Mam'zelle Nitouche
1931 The Unknown Singer Pierette Original title: Le chanteur inconnu
1932 Pour vivre heureux Jacqueline
1932 The Chocolate Girl Julie Original title: La petite chocolatière
1932 A Son from America Maryse Original title: Un fils d'Amérique
1932 King of Hotels Victoire Original title: Le roi des palaces
1933 The Sad Sack Original title: Tire au flanc
1933 Mind the Paint Amélie Gadarin Original title: Prenez garde à la peinture
1933 L'étoile de Valencia Rita
1933 Le voleur
1934 Ladies Lake Puck
1935 Black Eyes Tania Original title: Les yeux noirs
1935 Les beaux jours Sylvie
1936 Girls' Dormitory Marie Claudel
1936 Ladies in Love Marie Armand
1937 Seventh Heaven Diane
1937 Love and Hisses Yvett Guerin
1938 Josette Renee LeBlanc
1938 La Bête Humaine Séverine Roubaud Alternative title: The Human Beast
Alternative title: Judas Was a Woman
1940 Love Cavalcade Juliette Original title: Cavalcade d'amour
1941 The Devil and Daniel Webster Belle Alternative title: All That Money Can Buy
1942 Cat People Irena Dubrovna Reed
1943 Tahiti Honey Suzette 'Susie" Durand
1944 Mademoiselle Fifi Elizabeth Bousset – A Little Laundress Alternative title: Guy de Maupassant's Mademoiselle Fifi
1944 The Curse of the Cat People Irena Reed, Oliver's dead wife
1944 Johnny Doesn't Live Here Any More Kathie Aumont Alternative title: And So They Were Married
1946 Pétrus Migo
1947 Temptation Harbour Camelia Alternative title: Temptation Harbor
1950 Women Without Names Yvonne Dubois Original title: Donne senza nome
1950 La Ronde Marie, the housemaid
1951 Olivia Mlle. Cara Alternative title: The Pit of Loneliness
1952 Le Plaisir Joséphine – le modèle (segment "Le Modèle") Alternative title: House of Pleasure
1954 I tre ladri Doris Ornano
1954 A Double Life Françoise Dunoyer Original title: Das zweite Leben
1956 The Extra Day Michele Blanchard
1957 The Woman in Blue La dame de Meudon Original title: La femme en bleu